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    Bulls to suffer in the sulphur?

    2015-05-21 22:05

    Cape Town – Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in round 15 of his regular South African-focused Super Rugby previews this year, just fails to find it in him to back the Bulls for a much-needed victory over the gnarly Chiefs in Rotorua, home of eggy-smelling hot springs, on Friday.

    After all, he tipped them – as many others did – to knock over the more limited Blues last week, and they failed rather frustratingly in that task.

    But he does believe the Stormers, at their Newlands stronghold, will overcome the Rebels a day later, even if it again isn’t too pretty, to march back to the top of the SA conference.

    *Rob is currently lying 105th out of 1 705 tipsters in the Sport24 Super Rugby predictions pool on SuperBru, and 8 047th out of around 192 000 contestants globally with a win success record of 65%.


    CHIEFS v BULLS, Rotorua

    When: Friday, 09:35 (SA time)

    Referee: Chris Pollock (NZ)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: NZ panel

    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, cool, near windless

    Background: Sometimes when a team has done enough in many respects to win a particular game but not prevailed on the scoreboard, it can be a bit of a demoraliser that affects their mojo next time out. It is in that context that I fear a bit for the Bulls as their New Zealand tour leg shifts to the sulphurous town of Rotorua. If you can’t turn over the Blues, what price the steelier Chiefs? So the narrow South African conference-leaders may be set for a ninth successive setback abroad. That said, they CAN win this one. They look hugely better served in the second row, for instance, via Messrs Matfield and Van der Merwe, while the Chiefs have a fairly deep personnel crisis there at present. There’s also no Sonny Bill to contend with out back. But the hosts still possess enough lethal individuals – not to mention the slick, consummate Kiwi all-round game – to be considered favourites, by my book. The Bulls should be hungry, but the Chiefs, arguably robbed of a match-winning late try against the Hurricanes by officialdom last time out, maybe even more so. Still, wouldn’t we love a wee upset?

    Key head-to-head: It’s all-change to the Bulls loose trio for this one, with only captain Pierre Spies keeping his starting slot. But they’ve made no bones about the fact that the breakdown could be crucial against the Mooloo Men, and restoring long-time main fetcher DEON STEGMANN to the XV seems a good start – the occasional Springbok is much improved from the once penalty-prone customer he was. The nuggety No 6 may need some help, via forceful cleanouts, from the other recalled loosie Jacques du Plessis if he is to win his personal battle with SAM CANE, one of the most prolific turnover practitioners of the competition this year.

    Last result between sides: March 29, 2014: Bulls 34 Chiefs 34 (Pretoria)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Chiefs by six points

    SA GAME 2

    STORMERS v REBELS, Cape Town

    When: Saturday, 19:10

    Referee: Stuart Berry (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce & Bob Skinstad (Eng), Hennie Koortzen & Kobus Wiese (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja & Makhaya Jack (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Cloudy, mild, light wind

    Background: They look so much better this year, but the brutal fact remains that the Rebels have not yet won on our shores (nought from eight). It would be a major surprise, then, if they were to steal a maiden one in the intimidating cauldron of Newlands and I simply can’t see it happening. The Stormers are far more fully laden with internationals or bubbling-under Boks than the visitors are with Wallabies, and pushing not only for a good playoffs ticket but conference bragging rights as well. Expect their scrum to get a particularly good head of steam in this match – the Rebels front row may do well to avoid the occasional pop? – and ruthless defence to snuff out the majority of vaguely threatening enemy raids. Coach Allister Coetzee resiliently insists he isn’t too concerned about four-try bonus points ... I believe he should be, if a home semi is to be secured, and if they get a platform in the first half, the Stormers should challenge themselves to leave a conservative comfort zone and go for it!

    Key head-to-head: It’s interesting that Coetzee has delayed resting some of his senior Boks (still needing some mandatory sit-outs) in the pack ... yet made a rotational sort of change as scrumhalf where LOUIS SCHREUDER gets an infrequent go at the expense of benched Nic Groom. With little regular game-time, it must be difficult for him to hit his straps at the start of matches, but he probably needs to here. Up against him is the Rebels’ useful NIC STIRZAKER: the 24-year-old, London-born (to South African parents) No 9 is playing perhaps the most inspiring rugby of his career thus far, just one reason why the Rebels are punching more strongly than some believed they might ahead of the season. 

    Last result between sides: May 17, 2013: Rebels 30 Stormers 21 (Melbourne)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Stormers by 10 points

    SA GAME 3

    CHEETAHS v LIONS, Bloemfontein

    When: Saturday, 17:05

    Referee: Jaco van Heerden (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Owen Nkumane & AJ Venter (Eng), Christo Olivier & Derick Hougaard (Afrik), Kaya Malotana & Lungelo Payi (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Clear, mild, gentle breeze

    Background: Not only do the Lions need to bank wins in a hurry, but they need full-house ones too if they are still to sneak into the playoffs. It’s become an uphill task, regrettably, after the Brumbies-engineered slip-up in Johannesburg. What they basically require in the Free State, then, is a repeat of the victorious home outcome against the Cheetahs a few weeks ago. The sides shared 63 points then, and it was 4-4 in the tries column: Johan Ackermann would enthusiastically take a carbon copy of that, you can be sure, even if it was a little too close for comfort on that occasion. The Cheetahs will try to atone for a fair old stuffing at the hands of the Highlanders last Saturday, and they have a couple of other returnees like Bok wing poacher Cornal Hendricks. The fixture could be extremely close: in the crystal ball I see another of those one- or two-point Lions wins they’re so good at eking out ...

    Key head-to-head: After his flu-related absence last weekend – though some might argue the walloping from the Highlanders was a good one to miss? – the Cheetahs welcome back with open arms their skipper and No 5 lock FRANCOIS UYS. Central to their lineout plans, which went rather awry while he was briefly sidelined, he directly faces the Lions’ MARTIN MULLER here. Ex-Ikeys representative Muller (huge boots to fill, as that heroic first-choice workhorse Franco Mostert gets a partial break as a substitute) is pretty familiar with Cheetahs systems, as he once plied his trade in Bloemfontein ...

    Last result between sides: April 25, 2015: Lions 34 Cheetahs 29 (Johannesburg)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Lions by one point

    SA GAME 4

    REDS v SHARKS, Brisbane

    When: Friday, 11:40 (SA time)

    Referee: Angus Gardner (Aus)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Australian panel

    Weather outlook: Clear, mild, moderate wind

    Background: How typical of the Sharks’ relatively rotten luck of late: here they run into a suddenly rejuvenated Reds combo, courtesy of their six-try romp against compatriots the Rebels. That’s enough, you have to suspect, to install them as favourites for the clash of under-performing near-giants of Super Rugby. Remember that the Sharks’ log points tally on their overseas tour reads 0/15! But they are gradually clawing back a measure of respect, and will still have a pretty good chance in Brisbane of staving off a record (for them) seventh reverse on the trot. I am interested in how Aussie referee Angus Gardner polices this game, given the rough end of the stick Marco Wentzel’s troops got from Rohan Hoffmann a week earlier in Sydney ... and the fairly swift, agreeable repercussions.    

    Key head-to-head: With the Sharks desperate and the Reds on a mini-resurgence roll, I have a feeling this may be chaotic, fluid and high-scoring. If the game does assume that characteristic, you oughtn’t hear too many complaints from the two utility backs occupying the fullback spots, the Sharks’ LWAZI MVOVO and the home outfit’s JAMES O’CONNOR. Bok flier Mvovo would love any opportunity -- on an anticipated dry night – to crack on the burners from the back, whilst Wallaby occasional bad boy O’Connor flits dangerously in and out of roles, given his experience of so many different numbers on his back.  

    Last result between sides: March 15, 2014: Sharks 35 Reds 20 (Durban)  

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Reds by four points

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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